Yoga mats bring stability and comfort to any yoga practice. Made of a variety of materials, from synthetics to all-natural versions and even combinations of both, well-maintained yoga mats can last for years. Whether purchased to begin a new program or to replace a worn mat used by a seasoned practitioner, a new yoga mat needs some breaking in and a little special care to prepare it for regular use.
Kinds of Yoga Mats
Several kinds of yoga mats are available, with options for those at all levels of practice. The most commonly used yoga mat is the sticky mat, which sticks to floor surfaces for better traction and stability during poses. Sold through outlets as varied as dedicated yoga suppliers and chain department stores, the basic sticky mat is generally made from polyvinyl chlorides, or PVCs. Carcinogens, such as dioxins, are released into the air during the manufacturing of PVC. Although inexpensive and easily available, these mats are neither biodegradable nor recyclable.
Eco-friendly alternatives to mats made with PVCs are available through quality retailers of yoga supplies. These mats are made from biodegradable and recyclable materials such as natural rubber and jute, or thermo-plastic polymer (TPE), a decomposable synthetic alternative that contains none of the harmful compounds found in PVC-based mats. Another variety of mat, called a hybrid, is made of polymer environmental resin, or PER, combined with some natural content. This type of mat retains the comfort and durability of mats made from PVCs without the toxic chemicals they contain.
Mats vary in thickness and flexibility. Some mats are suitable for use not only on floors but also in outdoor settings, and are heavier and thicker than the typical sticky mats. Others are lighter and smaller, intended for use while traveling. Whether made from synthetics or natural ingredients, all new mats generally require a “breaking in” period to eliminate stiffness, increase flexibility and, in the case of sticky mats, maximize the mat’s ability to stick to floor surfaces.
Getting Rid of Residue
Many new mats have a film, or residue, from the factory, which gives them a rubbery smell and a slick feel when first used. This residue makes it difficult for a new mat to stick to floor surfaces, with the potential for slipping and injury during practice. Although this residue does wear off with use during the breaking-in period, it can be eliminated by wiping the mat down with a damp cloth, or by leaving the mat out in the sun for a day or so to break down the film and eliminate the rubbery smell. A non-solvent cleanser intended for general household use can also be used if a water-dampened cloth fails to remove the film.
Softening the Mat
Many new mats are stiff, and at first use may not “stick” enough to floor surfaces. Washing the mat in cool water and allowing it to air dry can help soften the mat and fluff it; this also helps to eliminate the factory smell. Most mats are not machine washable or dryable, particularly those made from PVCs, so they can be washed in containers of cool water, or hung and rinsed with a garden hose.
Using Soaps and Cleansers
New mats can be cleaned with non-solvent based household cleaners, or mild soap and water. Yoga practitioners caution, however, that using too much soap, or a soapy cleanser, can make the mat slippery and potentially dangerous. Some spray cleansers and cleaning cloths made especially for use on yoga mats can be purchased from yoga suppliers for the safest care of new mats.
General Mat Care
After the initial breaking in period, mats can be gently washed, or wiped down with a non-soapy spray cleanser to eliminate stains and residues from general use. The mat can be blotted with a towel and then left to air dry. Stiff mats that adhere poorly when new can generally soften and become stickier with repeated washings. With the exception of drying and airing out, yoga mats should be kept out of the sun, since this can accelerate the aging and breakdown of fibers in the mat. When not in use, yoga mats should be stored either in a dedicated yoga mat bag, or rolled and placed out of the sun. As they soften with age, mats can also be folded.
A well-maintained yoga mat can last for years. A breaking in period that takes into account the mat’s features and composition is the first step in preparing a new yoga mat for a lifetime of service in practices of all kinds.